University Post
University of Copenhagen
Independent of management


Top scientist Eske Willerslev: »Academics don’t enjoy a unique status in Denmark. But we should celebrate each other«

Culture — Eske Willerslev wants to bring back the sense of pride to the University of Copenhagen. He wants to reintroduce rituals and ceremonies to heighten students and staff job satisfaction.

»I was against all the reactionary traditions when I was younger. I did not put on a [Danish traditional] student cap [on graduating from secondary school], for example. But I have completely changed my attitude to this,« says Eske Willerslev.

Since 2015, he has commuted as professor between Copenhagen and Cambridge. In the beginning he was sceptical of the pomp and ceremony of Cambridge. But on the other hand he noticed how he himself took pride in the traditions.

Now he calls on management:

»The University of Copenhagen could learn so much from Cambridge,« he says, referring to the symbolic power inherent in historical rituals, conservative etiquette, and any kind of bling.

You are proud to be part of a community where people work hard and achieve outstanding results.

Eske Willerslev on the symbolic power of the ritual

His point is, that it is not about what it looks like from the outside. It is about how you see yourself and each other at the university:

»You up your game when you put on your academic gown or put an award on your lapel. And you look at your colleagues with admiration, because you are proud to be part of a community where people work hard and achieve outstanding results.«

At the University of Copenhagen, celebrations are few and far between. This can also be seen in the debate on the University Post. Here both students and staff regularly mourn the loss of traditions. Many faculties, for example, have stopped the master’s thesis defence, and they have told students that they need to print their own master’s diploma via the Danish mailing system eBoks.

»I just can’t stand it,« says Eske Willerslev:

»When I got my doctorate at the University of Copenhagen, there were three thermoses and some plastic mugs on the table. That was it.«

But Eske Willerslev still has no doubts that the University of Copenhagen can become the world’s best university.

A full interview with Eske Willerslev’s specific suggestions for what is needed to make this happen will soon be published.